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Genre blurring Montreal-based (and Edmonton-raised) rapper Cadence Weapon, a.k.a. Roland Pemberton, has been embracing a lot of change in his life lately. Nowhere is that more apparent than in his third album Hope in Dirt City. Pemberton enlisted a large pool of collaborators, taking his writing and samples, and putting them through the wringer with a diverse group of producers. The one constant for Cadence Weapon seems to be critical acclaim; Dirt City’s been nominated for the Polaris Prize long list, as have Pemberton’s previous two albums. We spoke with him over the phone as he and his tourmates (and fellow Polaris Prize nominees) Japandroids took shelter from a fierce storm while making their way through Nebraska, en route to their Toronto show this weekend.
The A.V. Club: So how’s the tour going with Japandroids?
Cadence Weapon: It’s been great. I’ve been on the road with them over a month now. We started off in England, which was a lot of fun, a really great experience. We played the Primavera Festival in Barcelona, and Amsterdam … and now we’re rambling across the American heartland. We just played Denver, and we’ll be in Chicago tomorrow. The shows have had really great turnouts; we’re doing a really good job of converting people.
AVC: And you’ll be in Toronto on Saturday.
CW: Yeah, Lee’s Palace! I’m pretty stoked. It’s weird... it’s my first time in a while playing in Toronto, and it’s going to be great to share these songs, in the context of people knowing them, or having an idea where I’m coming from. I’m really excited to play Toronto and Montreal in particular. I live in Montreal now, and it feels like I’ve been living a secret life, where nobody knew about my rap world, ‘cause I didn’t really talk about it.
AVC: Your last two albums were both Polaris Prize nominated. Do you think that’s news to people in those cities? Have they been focusing on something else?
CW: Well, maybe...I think I’ve kept a low profile since I moved out there. I wanted people to like me, I wanted to meet friends, people who liked me for being me, a funny guy, or something.
AVC: So Montreal is a home base for you now, when you’re not touring. Has it felt like you’ve been starting over, re-establishing yourself?
CW: A little. But it feels good to be playing shows again, and collaborating with people there has been a really good experience. The artistic environment in Montreal has been very positive, because it’s competitive, in a way that’s also constructive. It’s not backbiting, or a lot of dissing. When I heard, for example, the Braves album, I was like, “OK, I gotta try to be doper than that.”
AVC: The cover story for the new Maisonneuve magazine, about the renewed focus on Montreal’s music scene, mentions you in the very first paragraph. So you seem to have become part of that. Is there a lot of mutual admiration in the Montreal scene?
CW: Definitely. It’s a very supportive environment. Montreal has that foundation, that commitment to the arts, woven into its culture, and moving there, I feel I’ve really reaped the benefits.... sorry, I’m a bit distracted, we’re in the middle of this crazy rainstorm right now.
AVC: We’re probably jealous of you here in Toronto. It’s more than 40 degrees with the humidity right now.
CW: I think we hit that driving through the desert, between Sand Diego and Denver. But it was arid; a really dry heat. Really windy, really hot. The worst weather.
AVC: Let’s talk about Hope in Dirt City. That goes back more to your hometown of Edmonton, even though you produced much of the album in Montreal and Toronto, right?
CW: Yeah, sure. That said, it feels to me like there’s defined parts to the album: a Montreal side, a Toronto side, and an Edmonton side. Especially when it comes to the production. Some of the songs, like those with a lot of live instrumentation, I started off with samples, took those to the band in Toronto, and we interpolated the sample compositions I’d made into live tracks. And then I’d take those results, and sample them again.
That was my process there. But there’s four other songs on the album that were produced more by Montreal producers. Especially other DJs: it was there I first met Markus Garcia, from LOL Boys; they made “There We Go.” And for a while, Doldrums lived at the Torn Curtain (he literally slept there), and he did “Get On Down,” and Flow Child, he collaborated with me on the title track. And Victor Bongiovanni did “Hype Man.” That all came about from playing and attending parties, being part of this underground music culture that I was always interested in, and felt like I could be part of, even before I lived there. It’s always influenced my music. And then, there are some more outlying influences, factoring in the touring I’ve done. Like “Jukebox,” that takes place in Austin, Texas.
AVC: As you tour more and further away from your roots in Edmonton, like to Europe, your music’s going to incorporate that expanding world view. Speaking of Edmonton, now that your two-year term as the city’s Poet Laureate is done, are there any lingering ceremonial duties?
CW: No, not anymore. We created a book of the poet laureates, a collected works of my and the other poet laureate’s work—that was the most recent thing. I don’t have any other specific commitments to them, but that said, one of my next projects I want to do is put out a book of poetry. I’ve always wanted to do a Bob Dylan’s Tarantula kind of thing.